Republicans and Democrats in Washington may disagree about cutting the defense budget, but their constituents are generally in accord that it should shrink next year by a fifth to a sixth of its present size, according to a public opinion survey by the Program for Public Consultation, the Center for Public Integrity and the Stimson Center, a nonprofit think-tank.
The three groups first reported the existence of a broad public consensus in favor of military spending reductions in May, after conducting a unique nationwide survey in which respondents received information about the defense budget and had the chance to read multiple pro and con arguments about the military budget like those circulating on Capitol Hill.
Now a more detailed analysis of the results of that survey has shown that majorities in both red and blue congressional districts — those with Republican and Democratic representation, respectively — strongly support the idea that the defense budget should be cut more than politicians in Washington are considering.
The Obama administration has only proposed to reduce planned military spending increases, leaving the budget mostly flat over the next decade. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has instead called for returning to the steady military spending growth seen over the past decade.
Both parties have decried a potential annual spending reduction of around 10 percent, under “sequestration” legislation approved last year aimed at cutting the overall federal deficit. A military cut of that magnitude would take effect automatically only if lawmakers are unable to agree on an alternative pathway to balanced budgets.
But the survey indicates that the public generally supports an even greater whack, no matter where they reside.
Those surveyed in different districts did show some differences. Districts that elected Democrats were slightly more supportive of cutting defense than those that elected Republicans. But the respective levels measured by the poll – 80 percent and 74 percent – were both high.
Respondents in blue districts likewise favored cuts that were slightly larger than those from red districts, according to the new survey results. But the totals were again both high — a 22 percent cut and a 15 percent cut, respectively, or between 50 and 100 percent more than under “sequestration.”
The new analysis showed, moreover, that the presence of Pentagon spending in congressional districts had little impact on the public’s sentiment, contrary to a common political presumption. “Overall, there was no statistical correlation between the level of defense spending in a district and the level of support for defense cuts,” the Program for Public Consultation, a nonprofit survey group associated with the University of Maryland, concluded.
“The idea that Americans would want to keep total defense spending up so as to preserve local jobs is not supported by the data,” said Steven Kull, director of the Program, while presenting the results June 16 to a forum in a House of Representatives office building on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Although the politically-based differences were slight, they mostly reflected known disagreements. People in Republican districts, for example, wanted smaller cuts in missile defenses, a program that many Democrats have scorned. They also wanted smaller cuts in naval forces, but larger cuts in military health care benefits.
Congress has not approved a defense bill this year — so far. But the Democrat-led Senate has indicated it will back a budget that tracks Obama’s proposal fairly closer, while the Republican-led House has added funds that U.S. military officials say they do not want. The White House has threatened to veto the Republican spending proposal if it passes.
A final resolution of the debate is not expected until other federal spending issues — including the possibility of raising taxes — are resolved, probably not before December and possibly not until next year.